DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Rory McIlroy is resigned to losing his Race to Dubai crown, but his motivation this week is to successfully defend his DP World Tour Championship title and move one step closer to regaining the world No. 1 ranking.
McIlroy could have replaced Jason Day atop the rankings by winning the European Tour's season-ending tournament, but Russell Knox's decision to withdraw last week reduced the strength of the field and lowered the number of points available.
If Knox, ranked No. 18, had remained in the field, the winner of the tournament would have gained 54 points - enough for McIlroy to surpass Day. Instead, the winner will earn just 52 points, leaving McIlroy short even with a victory.
His chances of contending this weekend seem high. McIlroy, the defending champion and also the 2012 winner at Jumeirah Golf Estates, has finished outside the top 10 only once in seven appearances, tying for 11th in 2011.
''It's always good to be back here,'' he said. ''I have great memories from this place, feel like my game is in pretty good shape. I've played this golf course pretty well in the past, and hopefully, I can play it just as well, if not better, this week. (It) would be a good way to finish the year on a high and get a victory and lift the trophy and hopefully make the turkey taste a bit better at Christmas.
McIlroy acknowledged that he can finish the season atop the European Tour rankings, but knows it's unlikely. He must win and needs Henrik Stenson, Danny Willett and Alex Noren, each above him in the Race to Dubai standings, to struggle.
''I can win mathematically, but it's not going to happen,'' McIlroy said. ''I wouldn't hold my breath. I think the three guys that are ahead of me are playing very good golf, especially the two Swedes, Henrik and Alex.
''Alex, with what he's done over the past few weeks; Henrik has had a fantastic year, and so has Danny, obviously, so I don't expect those guys to play badly this week. I'm just concentrating on trying to win the golf tournament, and if I can do that, I'll be very happy.''
McIlroy pulled out of the Turkish Airlines Open, citing security concerns, shortly before the event began earlier this month. That decision virtually ruled him out of the Race to Dubai as well.
However, McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, said he has no regrets.
''I'm very happy with my decision,'' he said. ''I've been here for the last couple of weeks. I've done a bit of practice, enjoyed myself. So, no, no regrets at all.
''I'd rather have gone to Turkey wanting to go there and winning the golf tournament, rather than going there not wanting to and finishing tied 40th. What good does that do to the tournament?''
Although the next European Tour season begins in December, and the next U.S. PGA Tour season is already underway, McIlroy confirmed the DP World Championship will be his last event of the year. He last played in a December event in 2013.